Saturday, July 4, 2020

Zentangle Goes Zoom with Esther Piszczek

I'm guessing that if at the beginning of the year you asked Esther Piszczek if she imagined she'd be teaching Zentangle drawing classes online via Zoom, she very likely would have laughed. "What's Zoom?" she may have asked.

As we've all discovered, much has changed these past six months, both globally and locally. The craving to make art remains alive in so many of us. The creative spark or creative urge is something many feel innate, as part of being human. Hence, Leo Tolstoy more than a century ago said, "Without art mankind could not exist." 

As I read this month's Twin Ports Art blog I noticed that Esther Piszczek has continued her Zentangle classes, even with the lockdown. I reached out to learn more about how her classes were going.

EN: How long after the lockdown occurred before you discovered you could teach Zentangle online? 

Esther Piszczek: It took me one month to start teaching on Zoom. I taught my first official class on Wednesday, April 15, after a quick prep class with two Zentangle (R) teacher friends.

The lockdown occurred mid-March. I knew almost right away that other teachers were teaching online Zentangle (R) classes, but I'd never imagined I would be able to teach online with any success as I value the in person interaction a live class provides. When the quarantine happened in mid-March, I'd taught one of four Advanced Zentangle classes in person at Ordean East Middle School through Duluth Community Education. We decided to put the class on hold, hoping we'd be able to meet again in person to finish the class. So that class didn't spur me to begin teaching online, but my Zentangle (R) & Wine class was scheduled for April 15 and I didn't want to cancel it because that group of students has been drawing with me monthly for years. When I finally decided to teach online, I met with a teacher friend of mine in Madison, WI, who helped me get started on Zoom and set up a Paypal account to accept donations. Next, I created a website so I would have a place to advertise my classes and showcase my students' work. I'm so glad I decided to teach online. It has challenged me and delighted me in many ways.

EN: When you teach at the gallery you take 3 hours. Are your Zoom classes shorter or the same?

EP: My gallery classes and my Zoom classes are 2.5 hours long. Sometimes they run long, especially at the gallery where everyone has been drawing together for years, but the Zoom classes generally end on time or sometimes early.

EN: What were the biggest challenges?

EP: My biggest challenge initially was converting my drawing pad and easel set up where I stand to teach to a Zoom set up that limits my set up to the area where my webcam is located. I held an initial class with two Zentangle teacher friends in mid April using a standing set up before holding my first class on April 15. For the April 15 class, I was still standing to teach and the camera height required me to place my easel on a platform, which also required me to stretch to draw on the drawing pad. I was exhausted and experiencing physical pain by the end of the 2.5 hour class and knew I needed to tweak the set up. Next I set up a table in front of my computer / web cam and put a table easel on it that held a much smaller drawing pad than the one I use on my standing easel. That worked much better. My next challenge was lighting. I was using a shop light to light one side of my easel that a friend allowed me to borrow, but it wasn't a standing light. I propped it up with a hand held weight and leaned it against my drawing easel, but if I bumped my easel while drawing, the light would tip over and I had to scramble to catch it more than once. So I did some research on standing lamps and purchased a standing Ott Lite that never tips over and also lights my space.

Another challenge is creating the class mosaics you see on my website. When I hold a class in person, I arrange all of the student tiles into a class mosaic on a black piece of poster board and take a picture. I then email that picture to the class. My students love receiving the class mosaics where they can see all the class tiles together and study/learn from other students' drawing/shading choices. Now, students take their own tile pictures and send them to me so I can create a class mosaic. For my largest class so far, I had 11 individual photos to edit and place to create the class mosaic, plus a picture of my demo tile. When those pictures are well taken, the editing process is easy, but when the camera is misaligned or an edge of the tile is cut off, it becomes more difficult to edit the photo and have it look good. Fortunately, I have really great photo editing software that can fix quite a bit.

EN: Has it gotten easier?

EP: Yes! Now that my set up is figured out and I have a pretty consistent group of students, I'm spending less time sending out introductory emails talking about what supplies students will need for the class (all things you can find at home), and my set up is really quick now. And I am so grateful that I never have to worry about knocking over my light during class. I've also spent time educating my students about what makes a tile photograph easiest to edit, since then, the quality of the photographs has improved and now I spend less time editing each photo to create the class mosaic.

EN: Have you had students from other parts of the country or overseas participating? 

EP: Yes. I have a longtime friend, we met in India when I was a Rotary Exchange Student there in 1987, who found my classes on Facebook. She'd been looking for a new art class to explore and I was delighted when she emailed me from Oregon to sign up for the class. She's been taking classes, sometimes twice weekly, since May 27. Another longtime student lives in Ontonogan, MI, and invited her artist niece Lauren from Baton Rouge, LA to come to class. They both draw with me on Monday nights for my advanced class. Lauren invited her 13 year old stepdaughter to join my Zentangle Foundations class on Wednesday nights and they have been drawing with me weekly, as well. Another long time student is a nun from the St. Scholastica Monastery who got quarantined in Chicago and she joins us from there. I've also had classes with friends in ME and NH. I haven't had any international students yet, but friends of mine want to have a class with my friend's mother who lives in Romania, so I could have an international student sometime soon.

EN: The gallery space was compressed and had a feeling of intimacy that was special. If you were in a larger room, could you return to socially distanced Zentangle classes in person? 

EP: Yes, however, my students have expressed concern about meeting in public and have also said how much they enjoy the Zoom format. My community ed class that was put on hold in mid-March met for the second class of the four class series on Monday, June 29. I asked them whether they would like to meet in person at the school for the remaining two classes, as I was told by the coordinator that that is now possible, but they all said they are more comfortable meeting online.

Another benefit to Zoom is the number of students I am able to teach at one time. You mentioned the intimate feeling of the space at Master Framing Gallery where I have taught Zentangle & Wine classes monthly since 2014. That space holds 7 at capacity and it is a bit of a squeeze. My first official Zoom class was a Zentangle & (bring your own) Wine class on April 15 and there were 9 students in the class. I wouldn't have been able to fit 9 students in the Gallery at any time. My classes say they are limited to eight, but that reflects the number of screens. I regularly have a mother / daughter duo who draw together on their front porch in Lakeside. When they are on one screen, it means I can add a ninth student to the class. The largest class so far has been eleven with six of those students on only three screens.

The Duluth Art Institute is now Open.

Related Links
Esther Piszczek's Patterned Peace
Local Art Seen: First Lesson in Zentangle with Esther Piszczek
A Slideshow of Zentangle Drawings at

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